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CHEF'S CORNER

 
Traditional Gingerbread Cakes
by Paul DeCecco and
Jacqueline Rindgen DeCecco

 

 

Taverns, especially in Philadelphia (like the City Tavern1), were common places for our founding fathers to meet, have a pint of their favorite ale, and eat some of the locally prepared food. In Williamsburg, Virginia, another such tavern, the Raleign Tavern, was opened in 1717. Like the city tavern, locals (and probably some of our founding fathers) met there for a good meal, drink and more often than not, had gingerbread cake for dessert or to simply snack on with their beer.
 
Very typical of the time were foods made with Ginger. Ginger was thought to be a good preservative for foods, and in the 1500s it started to be used in cakes and cookies as well as put onto meats (to hide the strong odor of aging meats...). In colonial Williamsburg, the Raleigh Tavern had its own bake house on the side of the tavern where food was prepared and served hot to its customers. Gingerbread cakes were very typical of the era and in some countries were so important that people made a profession out of being a Gingerbread maker.2
 
Gingerbread cakes are a relatively easy recipe to make that is very fun to do as a family event (as our family did over the Christmas holidays 2009). Below are both the traditional recipe as found from a recipe book from 1760 as well as a more modern version of them. We hope you enjoy!
 
Gingerbread Cakes (or cookies)3
(makes 50-60 cookies or 30 cakes)

 

  • 1 cup sugar

  •  
  • 2 teaspoons ginger

  •  
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg

  •  
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

  •  
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  •  
  • 11/2 teaspoons baking soda

  •  
  • 1 cup margarine, melted

  •  
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk

  •  
  • 1 cup unsulfured molasses

  •  
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

  •  
  • 3/4 teaspoon lemon extract (optional)

  •  
  • 4 cups stone-ground or unbleached flour, unsifted

  •  
    Combine the sugar, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Mix well. Add the melted margarine, evaporated milk, and molasses. Add extracts if desired. Mix well. Add the flour 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly. The dough should be stiff enough to handle without sticking to the fingers. Knead the dough for a smoother texture. Add up to 1/2 cup additional flour if necessary to prevent sticking. When dough is smooth, roll it out on 1/4 inch thick on a floured surface and cut it into cookies. Bake on floured or greased cookie sheets in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 10-12 minutes. The cookies/cakes are done if they spring back when touched.
     


    Original Recipe from Raleigh Tavern
     

    If enjoying with beer, a dark beer like a stout or a porter would be recommended (and what is likely to be drank by our revolutionary ancestors...).
     


    Gingerbread cakes with brown ale.
     
    1More information at: http://www.citytavern.com/history.html
    2See: www.jollyoldelf.com/gingerbreakhistory
    3Recipe from the Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop recipe book, p. 5
     
     
    Paul DeCecco and Jackie Rindgen DeCecco are culinary enthusiasts that enjoy organic cooking, traveling, and enjoying the outdoors with friends and family. We hope you enjoy this recipe for a classic wintertime treat. E-mail your comments of questions to alan@philadelphiacatering.com.
     
     
     
     

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